Application: When Employees Don't Keep Their Promises

Leaders tend to encounter similar challenges as a function of their roles.  One of the common breakdowns they experience sounds like this “I don’t understand why the people on my team don’t keep their promises.  It is very frustrating!” 

 Taken at face value it would seem that somehow employees are being dishonest or irresponsible.  And that is often the conclusion the leader has come to and they are stuck. 

 If we listen closely to the leader’s complaint it is based on the following presumptions:

·       He or she has made a clear, complete request

·       The employee has promised to fulfill that request

 What we often discover are several key breakdowns in the leader’s communication:

1.    The leader does not know the elements or mechanics of an effective request and thus do not design or plan their request.  The elements are:  Speaker, committed listener, something missing, conditions of satisfaction, time, mood, trust and shared background of obviousness.  These are non-discretionary and no request is complete without them.

2.    Often the leader has not made an actual request.  They may have said “I’d like x to happen” or “What I want you to do is y”.  These are assessments and are not truly requests.  Assessments do not generate action.

3.    Many times the leader has not elicited a promise from the employee.  Imagine the employee says “OK”.  Is he or she saying, “OK, I understand that is what you want” or are they saying, “OK, I will do that as requested”.  Action is only begun when the listener makes a promise. 

 Once we discover the structure of language and that we are not using it fully we can see that the breakdown of the leader is not that the employee is “being difficult” or irresponsible but that communication is not happening in a way that produces action.

 An Ontological Leader understands and uses the mechanics of language rigorously because they understand that this is the way humans generate action.  It takes learning in an area most of us have not been taught and it takes continuous improvement and practice.  The beauty of learning these facets of language is that a leader can greatly strengthen one of their most common tools overnight.  Efficiency is not about working harder but achieving more with less.  That is what Ontological Leadership offers us.